With Media Distracted, There's No Rush to Aid Somalia

The data suggests the media is focusing more on Norway and the debt crisis

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Today's New York Times tackles an important dimension of the famine battering drought-stricken Somalia: With the media focused on stories like the U.S. debt ceiling debate, the U.K. phone hacking scandal, and the Norway shooting rather than hunger in east Africa, relief organizations are having a hard time raising money. "The overwhelming problem is that the American public is not seeing and feeling the urgency of this crisis," a Unicef executive tells the paper (a cartoon in The Times of London recently made a similar point more controversially, depicting a starving Somali child saying, "I've had a bellyfull of phone hacking").

The data does appear to back up the claim, though the famine is certainly generating coverage. In the two weeks since the U.N. officially declared a famine in parts of Somalia, the story hasn't registered on Pew's News Coverage Index, with the debt crisis, phone hacking scandal, and Norway shooting driving the news cycle instead. A look at Google Search Volume and Google News Reference Volume over the last 30 days for the terms "Somalia," "Debt Ceiling," "Phone Hacking," and "Norway" suggests that the phone hacking scandal dominated coverage in mid-July, the Norway attack led the pack a week later, and the debt crisis stole headlines at the end of the month (admittedly we could have picked different search terms). A search of these same search terms in Lexis Nexis's "major newspapers" over the last week reveals the following article volume: Debt Ceiling (1,987), Norway (1,140), Phone Hacking (382), and Somalia (236).

What's also interesting about today's Times story is that it comes on a day when the paper is covering Somalia particularly aggressively, running a heartbreaking photo collection by Tyler Hicks and a story by Jeffrey Gettleman on how 500,000 children are on the "brink of starvation" while the Islamic militant group Al Shabaab is imprisoning displaced people. The Gettleman piece is the lead story in today's print edition, on right, elbowing out two other major stories: the House passing the debt deal at the eleventh hour and Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returning for the vote. The Times, it seems, is busy rectifying the problem its own coverage identifies.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.